Exclusive Interview with Stage Hypnotist Andrew Newton
Questions asked by Frank Stevens
Why do you not allow stage hypnotists at your shows?
Stage hypnotists are born thieves. Even the smallest one-liner will be stolen if it’s any good and new routines are as precious as gold. Anything that’s new and funny will be stolen and copied by every third-rate pub hypnotist in the land. In the world of stand-up comedy, stealing someone else’s material – even just one joke – is a real taboo and it’s the one thing that’s absolutely verboten! Comedians who do it often find themselves barred from the comedy clubs. I don’t see why it should be any different with hypnotists. Most of them are still doing stuff I was doing in the 1970’s – stage hypnosis is probably the only entertainment that is almost completely devoid of any originality. So, I guard my new material very carefully and don’t allow the thieving scum the opportunity to shoplift my new ideas.
There is another, more important reason – stage hypnotists almost always make a nuisance of themselves. They seem to think because they’ve done a couple of shows in a pub, they have the right to parade around my theatre as if they own the place. They just can’t help themselves – they can’t resist showing off in a manner designed to attract attention – ‘look at me everybody – I’m also very clever!’ Mainly, they distract other members of the audience. I’ve seen them reserve a seat on the front row and sweep in just before curtain up, usually dressed in such a way that leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind as to their profession. They explain in an audible fashion to their companion what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what’s going to happen next. Or, they arrive early, again, suitably attired and survey the audience as if they have been blessed with some great insight into the human psyche. I once caught one making notes, but not until he had every joke, every routine, every suggestion, written down. After the show he came right up to me and thanked me for all the material he was now going to use in his own show. Unbelievable! Paul McKenna once came to a show and reprogrammed one of my subjects during the interval. So professional!
So I’ve had a few chucked out, usually adding a well-timed one-liner – the sort of thing usually reserved for hecklers – but Ben Dali was the funniest! He walked in just before curtain-up with a clipboard, a video camera perched on his shoulder like a piratical parrot and a T-shirt with ‘Trust me, I’m a hypnotist’ emblazoned on the front. He was out in less than 30 seconds! How the audience laughed! Someone asked me afterwards if it was part of the show! He sent me an extremely lengthy email the next day that I couldn’t be bothered to read. There was a guy I’d never heard of who emailed me to tell me he’d done 350 straight nights at some ‘international’ club in Benidorm. Turned out it was true, but he wasn’t doing hypnosis, he was a waiter. Why did he bother me with it? I have no time for these fools and it’s no secret I regard most of them as something to avoid stepping in.
So that begs the question, are there any hypnotists you do actually like or even admire?
Peter Powers is probably the world’s leading entertainment hypnotist. I know him, although we haven’t spoken for several years, but I admire his originality (a rarity in the stage hypnosis business) and his humanity. You could not hope to meet a nicer, more genuine and kind human being. I think these qualities are sometimes hidden behind his mischievous stage persona. Ken Webster I respect because of his vast experience and professionalism. He already holds the world record for the longest running hypnosis show – 28 years at the Horseshoe in Blackpool. At the time when all the summer season shows have finished, Ken is still going strong. You don’t get the kind of success enjoyed by Peter, who has just completed his third TV series in Australia, and Ken, if you’re not any good.
In the therapy world, I look to Barrie St. John – I’ve seen him in action and he’s a fantastic therapist. I have learned a lot just by watching him work. Very occasionally, we work together. It is perhaps fortunate that Barrie shares, or at least understands, my sense of humour. I once made a surreal, shocking and unprintable joke about being in a lift when we were actually in a lift at a conference in Scarborough. He said “you’re not right in the head” but he was still laughing. We meet up at least three times a year and spend most of the time laughing like schoolboys. I always look forward to spending time with him.
Why then, as a stage hypnotist, are you so critical of stage hypnosis?
Stage hypnosis can be fraught with potential problems and – I’ve said this more times than I care to remember – a lot of stage hypnotists don’t have enough knowledge of the subject to be completely safe. Despite their habitual corporate denial, every stage hypnotist has, at some stage, had a problem with a subject that they didn’t know how to deal with. The problem is, they don’t have the background psychology to be able to deal with people who may, on occasion, turn out to be vulnerable or unpredictable. There are steps you take to avoid potential problems and there are quick solutions to problems if they arise, but the vast majority of stage hypnotists lack even the most basic information. The licensing rules in this country are often wilfully ignored, and the arrogance of some stage hypnotists makes my blood boil! I see some of them also advertise stage hypnosis training. This means passing on bad habits and bad practice to other incompetents. Personally, I wouldn’t trust any of them.
Having said that, there’s perhaps a handful out of the twenty or so at large in the UK that actually do know what they’re doing, and I’m kind of OK with them, but some of them are truly awful. A couple of them pretend they have PhD’s when in fact they do not. A major offender is Alex Smith, although these days he uses the pseudonym Dr. Jonathan Royle PhD. In fact, both his doctorate and his PhD are, by his own admission, purchased from an internet diploma mill, and thus fake. He now claims he has a doctorate and PhD from the American Universal Life Church – cost: $265. He once had the audacity to take footage from two of my New Zealand TV Shows and include them in his own publicity reel – obviously an attempt to hoodwink people into thinking that those huge audiences were his, and I’m afraid that is unacceptable.
Pub hypnotist Ray Ronson – coincidentally, a friend of Royle’s – claimed to be ‘Dr. Raymond Roberts PhD,’ but since this Interview was first published, he has removed any claim to having a doctorate or a PhD from his websites and advertising materials.
There are lots of online diploma mills – and no shortage of people willing to use them to acquire qualifications they are not entitled to – dishing out attractive but worthless certificates to anyone who is willing to pay for them. They have no official powers to confer doctorates – honorary or otherwise – and are not registered with or recognised by, any government departments or legitimate academic institutions. Nonetheless, there is none of the inconvenience of the usual written or viva voce examinations, or peer review of the supporting body of research and original thought, or the necessary Bachelor and Masters degrees required before PhD studies commence. People buy these awards because they are too lazy or dishonest to apply to the Open University or further education – available to everyone and anyone – and the honourable and honest thing to do. Those who indulge themselves in this sort of thing know very well what they are doing.
Real doctorates are awarded by real academic institutions and are the result of years of real research and real hard work. In any case, hypnotherapy is not a degree or PhD subject recognized in academia. Real academic institutions do award honorary doctorates to people who have made outstanding contributions to society, such as politicians, scientists, artists, even pop stars, but they are not intended to be used as proof the recipient is actually qualified in a particular discipline. In any event, honorary doctorates are styled ‘Doctor of Letters’ to avoid confusion and recipients don’t submit theses. People who have been awarded honorary doctorates don’t use the title Dr.
fakedoctorate.blogspot.co.uk is a mine of information about people who try to hoodwink the rest of us with fake PhDs. There are some surprising names in there, You can go to the site, type in the name of the person you’re suspicious of and find out if their PhD is genuine or if they are a complete Non-Doctor.
Anyway, it’s an indication of the calibre of some of the people you’re dealing with. They make me sick – they give the whole profession such a bad name. When I joined in 1980, the profession consisted of 8 gentlemen who were all highly educated and experienced. Those were the days…
Looking at your TOUR DATES you do about 30 shows a year. Why is this, when you could do more?
In the 1980’s I used to do about 80 shows a year, but I’m comfortable with the amount of work I’m doing – I only do the highly paid jobs, but mainly it’s because I have a really nice life and I’m not greedy – I have enough and over the last few years I’ve been seduced into the world of academia. I speak at a lot of psychology conferences and do a lot of lecturing to students. I also teach hypnosis at the Hypnoseakademiet in Oslo Norway, and that takes up quite a lot of my time. I also spend a few weeks in New Zealand every year, five months a year in Cape Town where I also have a home and so I’m picky and choosy about the sort of work I do.
Most stage hypnotists live off shows in pubs and the odd private party. On average, these gigs pay between £200 to £300 – less travel costs, less agent’s fees! Because of the time constraints and small audience numbers at these gigs, it’s impossible to deliver the sort of spectacular performance in a pub that you can in a theatre, where it’s a much better experience for the audience and the show will obviously be of a much higher standard. I have very high standards – I believe it’s all about giving an audience something better than they expected. In the theatre, you have much greater control and there’s more space for creativity and exploration. No one’s breathing down your neck telling you what time to come off so they can get an extra house of bingo in. In the theatre, you have access to professional lighting rigs and there’s so much more you can do presentation-wise. The theatre show is just light-years ahead of anything you could see in a pub. Added to which you don’t get the drunks and the dickheads in the theatres. So no crappy pub gigs for me.
After nearly 40 years in the business, why do you still do it?
What else would I do? I will never retire because I will always need the next project to focus on. In any case, I enjoy what I do, especially when it’s all going well, which most of the time, it is. I still need to travel – I do four or five intercontinental trips a year (New Zealand is about 30 hours each way) and always fly EMIRATES Business Class. Plus I have two homes to maintain. Something has to pay for all that.
You have been described as the Jeremy Clarkson of hypnosis… Why is that?
I refuse to acknowledge politically correct limitations on my act. I am openly opposed to excessive PC, although I know where the boundaries lie. Having said that, I have no worries about going right up to those PC lines and giving them a tickle. I don’t think everyone in my audience gets that, but I know a lot do, and that’s why they keep coming back.
Some people think that you have a problem with Paul McKenna and that you are jealous of his success. What would you say about that?
Paul McKenna can have his success. I taught him hypnosis. He has always put out this Mr. Clean image but when I first met him, he smoked cannabis and by the early 1990s had moved on to ecstasy. His ex manager has alleged he has graduated to cocaine. I believe her. His hypocrisy is breathtaking. If the public only knew! Oh, hang on a minute, they do.
There is a Machiavellian streak in Paul. The tiniest criticism results in an avalanche of threats from his lawyers. He has a habit of destroying people who have, in his mind, humiliated him. That’s one clear marker for psychopathy. He’s always going on about how much money he’s got. To me, this proves just how deeply insecure he is.
Mainly though, it was his incompetent handling of the Chris Gates case that I can’t forgive. Gates was one of his stage subjects and claimed in court McKenna caused his schizophrenia, which was of course a ludicrous assertion. But Gates became visibly distressed during the second half of the show and McKenna should have sent him back to his seat at the first hint of trouble. This is something I’d gone over and over with him – it’s one of the golden rules of stage hypnosis – but no, he forced Gates to carry on to the end of the show. When Gates subsequently contacted him, Paul didn’t know how to deal with it – some free hypnotherapy might have been one course of action, but instead, he behaved like he was hoping the problem would go away – always a mistake. But even though McKenna won the case, it destroyed the reputation of stage hypnosis in the UK. There was so much negative publicity around at that time. People thought that if the top man was dangerous, then how bad must the rest of them be? The upshot was that audiences stayed away. It took fifteen years of hard work to get them back.
But he has been very successful as a hypnotherapist and life coach…
His success? I’ve seen some of his work on DVD & YouTube and mediocre is the only word to adequately describe it. There are a thousand hypnotherapists in this country who do better work – they just don’t crave the publicity. He’s the ultimate drive-through hypnotherapist with the snappy sound-bite answers, but the real world isn’t like that. In the £1,500-a-head NLP training courses, he’s out-performed by [Richard] Bandler every step of the way. If he didn’t have Bandler on board, he wouldn’t have been able to pull it off, and Bandler, recently bankrupt, was happy to cooperate. In one clip, Paul is clearly out of his depth, but he surrounds himself with easily bamboozled types who act as his Muammar Gaddafi-style personal bodyguard. What people don’t realize is, the kind of people who attend these big events are highly suggestible human beings already and thus easy to ‘cure.’ The problem is, out there in the real world, it’s not nearly that easy. Where’s the follow-up supervision? Who monitors these people’s competence? Or is it that the only criteria for getting your NLP Practitioner’s Certificate is to be able to hand over £1,500?
A lot of people seem to think he’s marvelous, but I know different. To me, he’s just another snake oil salesman and, devoid of a single original thought of his own, his success is built entirely on the ideas and work of others. Anyway, like I said, he can have his success, I have my dignity.
I know one of his old girlfriends. What she told me made my jaw drop. They had been going out for only a couple of weeks or so when he [removed on legal advice.] I mean… WOW!
Moving on… why do you spend so much time in South Africa?
Cape Town is a lovely place and the sun shines most of the year. I have a lot of friends there and for me, it’s the perfect fallout shelter.
Do you still fly your plane?
No, I haven’t flown myself for about twelve years now. I enjoyed flying – mainly I enjoyed gaining a new kind of knowledge and the achievement of being able to fly an aeroplane. I felt very proud when I got my twin engine instrument rating [my father was in the RAF in WW2.] I flew for about fifteen years and stopped because I felt I was getting too old – I’m sure I would fail my medical if I went for one today. Flying my plane from Manchester to Nairobi and then around East Africa was unbelievably rewarding as far as my personal development is concerned. Now, I’d be frightened of falling asleep at the controls. The auto-pilot can do that to you, so I don’t think it’s right to take the risk.
What next for you?
Dinner. I love trying new restaurants – I eat in restaurants nearly every night. I’ve never cooked a proper meal in my entire life. Or washed or ironed an article of clothing, although I did once polish a pair of shoes. This is another reason I have to keep working.
Do you have any other dislikes?
Some… I’ve never understood the point of football for instance. I can’t watch it, although I would if they put a landmine in each half because then it would be interesting. I fucking hate cyclists too. They come from nowhere and whizz through on the inside, breaking all the rules and then whinge when they get hit by a car. They seem to think they have a God-given right to be on the road. Every time I read about one getting run over, I secretly don’t give a shit. The number of cyclists killed and injured this year is staggering. Therefore, cycling in traffic is obviously very dangerous. Therefore, either vehicles or cycles should be banned in cities. Obviously banning vehicles would bring cities to a standstill, so I’m afraid it has to be cycles.
Other than that, I don’t like drunks, people who can’t follow a reasoned argument and criminals. Habitual criminals should be executed – there’s no room for these people in a civilised society.
Oh, and the PC brigade. They should be shot first. We live in an age when highly qualified people are losing their jobs because they made a lame joke, or didn’t pay lip service to someone else’s ‘specialness’ – and today that usually means their choice of one of a choice of 53 different genders. It seems to me that being offended is the new religion. What happens exactly when you get offended? Does your arm fall off? Do you suddenly get pancreatic cancer? Do you pee your pants? NO YOU DON’T! All that happens is that you get worked up over trivial things, so get over it, get a life, and stop trying to impose your ludicrous sadness on the rest of us.
Is there anything you would like to change in society?
How long have we got? The elderly don’t get enough respect. The legal system is too slow and ponderous and justice delayed is justice denied.
MP’s are paid too much and Parliament has become a gravy train. Tony Blair should be arrested and put on trial at The Hague along with Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell. It makes me angry that the Blair administration was the most corrupt Britain has ever seen, and they got clean away with it!
We should be talking to Russia and viewing it as an emerging economy rather than allowing ourselves to get mired in a new Cold War.
There are now 52 designations/definitions for sexuality – people are obsessed with the minutiae of how other people should live their lives – the world has gone mad. And yes, again, it makes me angry that this ideology is being foisted on primary school kids who don’t have the life experience to understand what the hell it all means! Very young children are confused enough abut the big wide world without a bunch of perverts confusing them even more.
Are you worried about the future?
Self-driving cars & lorries, factory production lines, automated airport check-in, self-service tills, robot bar tenders – Artificial Intelligence will take at least 30% of all jobs by 2030 and 50% of jobs by 2050. This will change society in ways we can’t yet imagine. I believe that some kind of civil unrest is inevitable. People will only take so much and society will reach a breaking point. I may not still be around when this happens, and secretly, I hope I’m not. Revolutions just create new elites, and all in time become equally corrupt.
You spoke out recently about overpopulation – why did you do that?
I love the wild places and it worries me that we’re losing them, that we’re losing species at an alarming rate. The planet’s other creatures have just as much right right to their spaces as we do! We simply have to preserve the wild – it’s irreplaceable and I firmly believe we are failing. Humans are breeding at an exponential rate – we are the vermin of the planet – and we are willfully and recklessly overpopulating. Planet Earth does not have the resources to support or sustain seven billion people, let alone the nine or ten billion we expect by 2050!
We simply have to bring the numbers down. All the world’s problems – wars, famine, poverty, conflict, economic crises, collapsing eco-systems, even climate change – all are rooted in overpopulation. Humans are out of control. I think that one day, we may have to consider the compulsory sterilization of large numbers of people. Bottom line… I’d rather preserve elephants than humans. I think the world’s population should be reduced to no more than four billion – forcibly if necessary.
And you can forget about the pipe dream of colonising Mars as a long-term solution – we can’t even colonise the deserts on Earth! Sending a handful of astronauts to Mars ain’t gonna save the human race. In any case, you need a gene pool of at least twenty thousand people for future generations of ‘colonists’ to survive, and the costs of making that happen are prohibitive. However, I would be in favour of sending an initial group to Mars, made up of politicians, public relations people and other assorted bureaucrats. The costs would be borne by the super-rich, who would also be going.
Do you believe in God?
No. Religion is one of the two greatest frauds ever perpetrated on humanity.
What’s the other one?
Alan Carr, Chatty Man. He’s on my bucket list of the top five people I’d like to slap before I die. Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand are also on my list because of the cruel trick they pulled on Andrew Sachs – that was unforgiveable. What the fuck is the matter with people these days?
What do you see as the future of stage hypnosis?
Stage hypnosis has no future. The reason it was so amazingly successful during the last century is that it wasn’t on TV or the Internet. It had an underground, mischievous feel to it and audiences queued in their thousands to see Robert Halpern, Peter Casson, myself, and yes, Paul McKenna precisely because it wasn’t mainstream. The problem with hypnosis as an entertainment today is that it is, by its nature, very limited.
As a hypnotist, you are forced to stick to routines that are safe and non-threatening and also material that doesn’t require subjects to be comic geniuses, because most people are not. There’s a very fine line between a subject who is naturally funny and someone who is being exploited for their lack of intelligence. Audiences can tell the difference, so you have to tread very carefully, and that’s yet another reason new workable material has to be protected. That means giving your subjects tasks to perform that don’t require too much of a stretch of the imagination and that is obviously limiting. I have some routines that I only occasionally pull out of the bag because they require real imagination and creativity from the participant. The trick is to spot the likely candidate in the group.
Part of the problem is that young people today are not as imaginative as their parents were, and I’m not the only stage hypnotist who has noticed this. I remember the subjects in the 1980’s were funnier than today’s bunch. Is this because of Internet addiction, or because our devices are sapping people’s ability to think outside the box? There are various theories and some researchers and psychologists are also pondering why this is happening.
My feeling is that stage hypnosis will always be there, but it will never be as big as it was in the 1980’s and early 90’s, which was it’s heyday. I’m still doing prestige theatres and overseas tours because I work intelligently. There’s a guy doing two nights at a theatre in central London. He’s sold less than 30 tickets over the two nights. That’s going to be a lonely, not to mention expensive experience! Secretly, I’m fascinated to know why he thought it would succeed. To me, it just shows a delusional lack of experience and knowledge. Another dreamer.
Actually, I think the problem is more fundamental than all of the above. I do think there is a future for quality stage hypnotists, but they will be as few and far between as they are now. The idiots will always be in the pubs.
Do you have any regrets about your life?
Plenty. And you…?
If you had a time machine and could go back in time to change one thing, what would that be?
Yeah… I’d go back two thousand years to Bethlehem and persuade them to call the child Archibald.
OK, is this the sense of humour you were talking about?
It might be. Are we done now? I’m hungry. You promised me food.